Day six: Juneau

I’m exhausted.

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Today was a pretty fun day in Juneau because I spent MONEYYYYY!!!!! I signed up for a $300 excursion to Mendenhall Ice Caves. Prior to going, I thought the ice caves would be disappearing due to global warming. I learned it’s actually the opposite – as the glacier continues to recede, it’ll start to open up more ice caves. So supposedly, these ice caves explorations are actually a relatively new addition to the excursion listing!

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I’ll just skip to the main point and here are the ice caves!

We got into Juneau around 6:30am, so I got up at 5:30 and ate breakfast at the buffet. I’m eating less and less for breakfast because over time, I realize there’s a lot of things I don’t actually particularly enjoy eating (ex. omelettes, breakfast meats). For this breakfast, I ended up getting a single french toast slice, a spoonful of scrambled eggs, a slice of banana bread and then a bunch of fruit every breakfast.

We were supposed to meet our guide at 7:00, and we ended up being the first to arrive around 6:45 (me, Jessica and Laura). We didn’t have the rest of our families come because this was a more strenuous excursion (though still marked as moderate). Our group ended up being a total of six + our guide: it was us three, a 40ish year old couple from Mexico, and a Vietnamese girl from Mountain View who looked our age. Our guide was a youngish female named Brittany who went to one of the Alaskan Universities for Environmental Science and Geology (?) and originally came from somewhere in Colorado. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting a female guide and was pleasantly surprised haha

Upon pickup, we were driven to the ABAK (Above and Beyond Alaska) headquarters which was a relatively large two story building. Along the way there’s an area where you can see many bald eagles, though one person said the area was a trash dump and another person called it a nesting ground. Hm. The headquarters looked like the kind of building that was built by someone who had always dreamed of running a co-op like excursion tour company in Alaska. By that I mean, everything seemed pretty meticulously thought out – from the racks to hang various gear, to tubs that fit perfectly on shelves to hold other gear, to a giant prep room for employees to clean gear and sort Costco purchased snacks for customers … it was really nice! Upon entering this building, you see several wooden benches which have tiny white boards attached where they write the names of people so everyone in the group knows upon arrival where to start unpacking and sorting their daypacks. It was a spacious, open space that still held a ton of gear. And they had canvas printed several pictures that our guide later told us were all taken by customers.

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view of Mendenhall Glacier upon approach

We got nice rain jackets, rain pants, boots, and a daypack containing a helmet, crampons, a hiking stick, a snack bag containing way more snacks than I expected, and a water bottle that ended up being our souvenir. Also, a harness in case one of us fell into an icy hole and had to be fished out (thankfully this did not happen). It was really awesome! So we got our gear, made sure everything fit, then got back onto the van. They took us into the Tongass Forest which was across from the Mendenhall Glacier, and then we walked to an area where our canoe was stationed. After carrying the canoe into the water, we all got in and paddled up to the glacier. Then we hiked a little to reach the ice caves, then walked a little farther up, put on our crampons, and got to explore on top of the glacier. I thought there’d be much more to the ice caves but it was smaller than I expected. Walking on top of the glacier was awesome, I think because I had never walked on top of a glacier before and had no expectations.

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Walking to the caves!

On top of the ice cave, our guide took us to see a huge crevice, in which you could see the gradients of glacial ice blue, and glacial water below. She said in prior years, it was possible to grab a water bottle and drink glacier ice – but now parts of the glacier have opened up and the water has dipped too low. Then she showed us another part of an ice cave where you could see anchors drilled into the ice. She pointed out the dark parts in the ice cave, which represent parts where the ice had melted away and had left behind mainly rock and dirt, which would one day collapse. She also pointed out some roots in the glacial ice, some of which was already starting to poke out, and said this was a relatively new discovery indicating that the glaciers had formed where an old forest once stood.

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Getting closer to the caves!

As expected, I really hated the canoeing part (I hate canoes and kayaks) but it was kind of worth it because you got a really good view of the glacier and its distance from the visitor center. I guess the glacier once actually reached the visitor center, but since its receded in a few decades, it’s now not even walkable from the glacier to the visitor center. I LOVED the crampons part (ice walking) because it seemed way easier to walk downhill in crampons as opposed to walking in shoes on a downhill dirt path. I asked our guide Brittany about ice climbing, which she made to sound like a really fun and totally doable thing to try out one day. Last note, I’ve never really seen glacial blue ice up close and it looks REALLY beautiful.

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Our canoes docking point

After this, we went back to the warehouse, then got taken back to the cruise docks. Jessica and Laura went back to the boat to watch Rogue One, while I decided to walk all around Juneau. I passed through the Main St and stopped in a handful of shops, but mainly wanted to just keep walking as high as I could. I originally wanted to hike Mt Roberts and possibly use the tram to get down, however, I guess they no longer sell one way tickets, and it seemed stupid to buy a full priced ticket if I hiked half of it, so I didn’t bother. Also, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to hike, plus it was very overcast so I didn’t think the visibility would be that great anyway. I loved what I ended up doing though, which was just walking around the neighborhood, ending up at Cove Park, a small residential park, and just seeing all these cool hidden staircases. It reminded me of Seattle, because these staircases would link streets that couldn’t be connected via car. Love!!!!!! By the way, it started raining around 1:00, so thank goodness I had brought my waterproof jacket. This might have been one of my favorite parts of the day, because I just walked around with zero destination in mind, stumbled upon a small park in Juneau, listened to Another Round and Still Processing podcasts, and my feet were nice and warm because I had worn hiking boots. Yay for preparedness!!!

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Random Anchorage garden

I got back on the boat around 3:10 – the boat was supposed to set off around 3:30. My mom and I walked around the decks and watched the boat set sail and then I left her to go take pictures of Juneau in the fog. Today’s been pretty jam packed, and I need to go to the gym!!!

For dinner, it was just my family because Laura’s family decided to try a restaurant for seafood. Today was apparently Italian day – I got a beef carpaccio, a pot roast (surprisingly good meat), and a veal milanese (again, surprisingly good). For dessert I got a hazelnut semifreddo which I already have forgotten about – as a family, we ordered the “sweet & nutritious fruits” and joked about what the fruits could possibly be. I thought it would be the same as the buffet (melons) but everyone else optimistically thought it must be berries. Well, it was melons – watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew … ANDDD strawberries! Big whoop.

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